"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Things I Eat When I Have a Per Diem

It's not often that a teacher gets treated on the company dime. Sometimes we get bottled water at a faculty meeting. And most Parent Conference nights we get a free dinner from the school cafeteria.

If it's in English, Spanish, and French,
it's international.
But every once in a while, a school district will invest in a program that's all about improving student performance, and someone has to be trained in order to implement said program. Rarely is an actual teacher sent to a conference instead of an administrator, but in the case of the International Baccalaureate Programme (and that "e" at the end of the word "programme" shows you how "international" it is), teachers need to know the curriculum to teach, so they are sent to get the training they need.

I have actually had the good fortune to attend the same training in Florida two summers in a row: Last year to learn what to teach in the first place, and this year because they changed the English curriculum for the incoming Juniors. But this post isn't about IB and it's accoutrements; it's about being paid to go on vacation and what it's like to spend a per diem. A perk that, as a teacher, I never expected.
The view from my balcony. Pretty.

Imagine a fogged-up bathroom after a hot shower.
That's what the outdoors feels like ALL THE TIME.

I was sent with a group of four others from my school to St. Pete's Beach, and stayed at the TradeWinds Resort, a place where you walk out of the hotel and onto the beach. As part of the conference, a breakfast and lunch buffet is provided in an air conditioned pavilion. That was decent grub, but when breakfast and lunch is already provided and you get a thirty-five dollar per diem, you can have a somewhat extravagant meal for dinner.
An unnatural, yet scenic, pond in the middle of the TradeWinds resort.

On the first night, we arrived late in the evening and checked into the hotel. No one wanted to go anywhere, except to remain indoors with air conditioning, a common theme throughout the week. So we went to the Palm Court Italian Grill conveniently located inside the resort. I'm not a seafood eater, which is 75% of their Italian-food menu. (You can check it out yourself if you want; my math's certainly off). They do offer Braised Florida Boar, which I might have tried if not for the mushrooms included with it. Since most of their dishes involve seafood or mushrooms or both, I got the New York Strip. Honestly, I don't often go out for steak. It's expensive, and I'd rather just grill it myself. But when I have a per diem, I'm going to get a nicely prepared slab of beef. This one was good, but it wasn't as great as the next night.

We ate him up in tiny bites.
The next night, though, was all about the alligator. We knew this place called Silas Dent's Steakhouse, across the street from the resort, offered alligator, and we were up for the experience. Or at least game enough to be able to say we ate alligator. Unfortunately, the gator came out as an appetizer, heavily breaded and with a honey-mustardy barbeque sauce for dipping. It tasted like popcorn chicken. That is to say, you couldn't really taste the alligator, but the sauce was good. While my companions were then eating grouper and oysters and lobster, I again had the steak--filet mignon, to be precise--with a blue cheese topping and twice-baked garlic potato. It was definitely one of the best steaks I've ever eaten. Even better than the much more expensive and elite ribeye I ate at Emeril's in Vegas a few weeks ago.

The third night, we got in the rental and drove to the point south of the resort in a little area called Pass-a-Grille Beach, which I thought would be busy and crowded, but instead was lazy and peaceful. Mostly filled with houses, condos, and hotels, this little plot of land at the entrance to the Tampa Bay had a block or two of restaurants and cafes. We stopped at one place called Hurricanes because we liked the look of the large, old building with a great second story view, but it turned out to be a one-floor dive bar without air-conditioning. They seated us, and we almost stayed just to be polite, but we didn't. Before they could ask us what we'd like to drink, we bolted.

Instead, we found a second floor view in a place called The Brass Monkey Bar and Grill. And even as I write this, I can't avoid repeating, "That funky monkey," in my head.

Here, push play, and you can sing along as I finish my story:

So this place didn't have a thirty dollar steak, but they had the crab cakes and fresh fish you might want. Me, I went for the BBQ bacon burger and the plate of fries loaded with bacon and cheese. This was the cheapest meal I ate all week, barely spending half of my per diem amount, but it was great. I can put down a solid burger before steak any day.

In conclusion, it's fun eat a thirty-five dollar meal every once in a while. Especially when it's not your money.


  1. You're making hungry. Steak with bleu cheese sauce! Drool.......

    "Imagine a fogged-up bathroom after a hot shower."

    Sounds miserable. I've been to Florida once, when I was very, very little. My memory of it is very scattered. I remember that the air was so thick that you could almost see it. I prefer AZ heat, if I have to be in the heat at all. That's more like sticking your face in a hot oven.

  2. Eating on someone else's dime is a blast. I'm a burger chic, too. I love the pics you posted. I want to go to Florida someday!

  3. Wow...congrats on the business trip. I'm jealous of you...and Florida to boot three years in a row!

  4. I know what you mean about not getting fancy dinners as a teacher. My husband is a scientist. For years I've watched him go to very nice places. When I was in the graduate program for history, students often would have to pay their own way to dine with a visiting professor.

  5. Alligator really does taste mostly like chicken. The texture is a little different...chewier, I would say. But it's not bad. (It doesn't technically count as seafood. Gators walk on land with four legs and a tail and they breathe real air.)

    Still...I'd have gone with the steak, too. The New York Strip is the best cut. (I like it even better than filet mignon.) But what's your beef with mushrooms? I don't like Portebello (sp?) mushrooms because they have this gross, meaty but not meaty taste that is just unbearable, but other mushrooms are pretty tasty.

  6. I love hearing that a teacher is getting some special treatment! I'm not much for meaty steaks, but more power to you! Extra kudos for being an IB teacher. My son did IB schools for 6th to 12th grade. It is a tough route for teachers as well as students!

  7. I loved dining out on someone else's dime. Most times working for the state is like being employed by Scrooge McDuck. "Here's ya a shiny new penny, boy! Now mind ye, don't spend it all in the same place!"

  8. @ Bryan: It's been hot in Denver this week, but I'd rather go for a run at 3:00 in the afternoon in 90 degree Colorado heat than spend more than a minute in the sauna they call Florida. Who chooses to live in that climate?

    @ Emily: Thanks for reading. Burgers are awesome. I like the chains like Red Robin and Chile's, but a good burger at a bar and grille sometimes can't be beat.

    @ Shelly: I did enjoy it. It was gorgeous. It just has to be small doses.

    @ Michael: It was just last year and this year. I doubt the district will pay to send me anywhere again for many years to come.

    @ Theresa: Depending on the principal, I've had everything from nothing to catered italian food from a local eatery brought in before conferences. But rarely is it that great.

    It's nice to hear from a fellow teacher.

    @ Chanel: If gator were considered seafood, I wouldn't have eaten it. And I just don't like mushrooms. Too squishy or something. I'm finding more and more that I'm a pretty picky eater. Steak is rather plain.

    @ laughingmom: Thanks for the support. At my school, IB does take up a lot of your time, but it's a trade off to be able to work with the motivated kids. I enjoy it.

    @ darev: I was actually surprised that the per diem was so much since we didn't have to pay for lunch or breakfast. It was a great perk.